To fight shortages, they're focusing production efforts on what sells best.

By Tim Nelson
July 18, 2020
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Unrecognizable woman marvels at grocery bread selection
Credit: SDI Productions/Getty Images

It'd be entirely disingenuous to suggest that life has returned to anything approaching "normal" at this point, but you could argue that we've all at least settled into something of a COVID-19 routine. Empty grocery store shelves seem to mostly be a thing of the past, and it's certainly not as hard to find toilet paper and other essentials as it was in late March. 

But while consumers can mostly find what they want, multiple major food and drink brands have made the strategic decision (for at least the time being) to pull back the breadth of their offerings in favor of focusing on what sells until this whole pandemic is over. To wit: shelves aren't as bare as they used to be, but your hunt for that esoteric product from a big-name retailer might be in vain. 

For example, Kraft Heinz has "adjusted our operations to be as efficient as possible," a company spokesperson told The New York Times. "In some cases, we're making fewer varieties of some products."

Meanwhile, PepsiCo's CEO Steven Williams admitted that the company had stopped manufacturing a full 20 percent of its products during the pandemic, estimating that the Frito-Lay brand could see a permanent three to five percent reduction to its product line. 

If you think about it, the reasoning behind these decisions are sound. Where possible, it makes more sense to cater efforts towards popular products to avoid shortages. At a time when food production facilities (and especially meat plants) can still potentially put their employees at risk even while running at reduced capacity, it doesn't really make sense to spend time or effort on the foods and drinks that might just linger on the shelves. 

The real question is how and to what extent these short-term switches might lead to long-term changes to what you'll find when you shop for food. There are many more important questions to ask and answer right now, but do we really need 30 brands of chips and 50 different varieties of cereal on store shelves? Add it to the long list of things this unprecedented pandemic has called into question.

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